Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” reveals the good, the bad and the ugly in American society

Chris Kyle is still making a difference. “American Sniper,” the film about his life as the military’s most lethal shooter, has sparked a debate about patriotism and the motivation of those who fight our nation’s wars. Countless reviews, articles, posts and Tweets have discussed every aspect of Clint Eastwood’s remarkable film, and they’ve revealed the good, the bad and the ugly in our society.

First, the good — those who supported the film. I recently wrote how we should make “American Sniper” the number one film to show Hollywood that our nation values its heroes and their stories. I knew the film would do well, but even I was surprised. It opened at the top spot and continues to dominate, breaking records and introducing Kyle, his way of life and his values to a massive audience.
“Infrequent moviegoers who go only two or three times a year are coming out to see this movie,” said Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman on the Deadline website. “This is a movie about patriotism, recognizing heroes, those who served; it’s about family.”
Hollywood got the message. Hopefully we’ll soon see more films honoring our nation’s warfighters and their families.
Now, the bad — those whose willful mischaracterizations of Kyle reveal a deep disconnect between them and America’s warfighters. This is a crowd that doesn’t understand why anyone would join the military. They aren’t aware of the intellectual rigor and personal integrity military service requires, and they’re completely unaware of the evil our troops face while defending our nation abroad.
Nobody knew that better than Kyle. “You live in a dream world,” Kyle said during a Time interview in 2012. “You have no idea what goes on on the other side of the world, the harsh realities of what these people are doing to themselves and then to our guys. There are certain things that need to be done to take care of them.”
Kyle understood himself and his enemy very well, but Salon writer Laura Miller suggests that he “never thought very deeply about his service, or wanted to,” that he lacked “imagination and curiosity,” and that his thinking was “all-too-emblematic of the blustering, tragically misguided self-confidence of George W. Bush.” Miller then wrote that “Kyle’s patriotism is of the visceral, Toby Keith variety. It consists of loving America — specifically, being overwhelmed emotionally by the National Anthem and the flag, and filled with a desire to dedicate one’s life to such symbols — rather than a commitment to tangible democratic principles, such as civilian oversight of the military.”
Miller — and there are many who think like her — clearly lacks any meaningful insight into what drives men and women to serve in uniform.  
Finally, the ugly — those whose horrible comments about Kyle, his fellow servicemembers and those who support them reveal their distasteful loathing of the military itself. A representative rant came from Seattle-based writer Lindy West, who wrote an article in The Guardian under the headline, “The real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer. Why are simplistic patriots treating him like a hero?” West wrote that Kyle “was a racist who took pleasure in dehumanizing and killing brown people” and those who consider him a hero do so out of “unconsidered rah-rah reverence.”
After reading West’s article, a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures — the folks who vote on the Oscars — told TheWrap entertainment website that Kyle “seems like he may be a sociopath.” Over on Twitter, liberal writer Max Blumenthal wrote that “the whole film’s appeal seems to derive from the latent racism that led America into Iraq.” He then compared Kyle to the pair of murderers who shot people in suburban Washington, D.C. parking lots a few years ago.  

It’s troubling to see a hero receive vitriol rather than gratitude, but in the end “American Sniper” will have a far greater positive influence than that of any of its petty detractors.  Meanwhile, I’m happy we still have people like Kyle out there. Their service protects the rights of us all — the good, the bad and even the ugly.

(Originally posted on AL.com)

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